A while back, Pastor Eric over at Heart of a Pastor challenged us to tell a Christmas story. Well, I have been thinking about it for some time, and I am going to cheat a little bit. I spent some time over in Japan a long time ago, and several years ago my Christmas eve sermon spoke of this experience. So I will be posting that sermon, only, I think, a little at a time, over the next few days. Possibly there will be pictures along the way...
"The Strange and Familiar Story"
It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The Christmas program was going to start at 4:00 p.m., and I was on my way to church. The sky was just beginning to dark slightly as I walked up the street lined with colored flashing lights and red and green, silver and gold decorations. As I passed an electronics store, I heard Bing Crosby's voice singing, "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas." It was cold, but it wasn't snowing, and the streets were dry. I thought of the Christmas eve service, and I thought of the presents I wouldget when I returned home from church later that evening. I thought of the cider and cookies we would share as we came in from the cold. I thought of how it was the same as other Christmases I had celebrated. Yet one thing was very different. For it was Christmas eve of 1981 and I was in Japan.
Still I was doing many of the things I would have done in the United States. Every week of advent, we lighted another purple or pink candle, and most of the songs we sang were the familiar ones, even though we sang them in Japanese. The children put on their pageant just as they did at home, and people exchanged gifts and caroled together. The stores, too, proclaimed the season, blaring Christmas music, and announcing pre-Christmas sales. There were Christmas trees and decorations in the public places, although there were non in homes. I saw no Christmas tree lots in Tokyo, and it was hard to imagine being able to carry one home on the train anyway. So that year I settled for a small potted fir, and put tiny paper decorations on it.
The streets were quiet on Christmas eve as stores shut down early. There are not many Christians in Japan, and fifty or sixty members make a pretty large church. However, many visitors show up on Christmas eve, attracted by the mysterious story (the weary couple finding shelter in the stable, the excited shepherds on the hillside, the newborn baby called "God with us"), and by the lighted candles at the end of the dark evening service. It is such an exotic and unfamiliar story to them, and the evening service is a mysterious time to hear this strange story of the son of God come to earth. So they come -- more out of curiosity than anything else, and churches which are empty the rest of the year are filled that night.
.... to be continued